Providence gathering informs undocumented residents on how to get driving privileges

About 60 people turn out to hear from officials from the DMV, Division of Taxation, and Guatemala

By: - April 14, 2023 4:05 pm

Marcela Betancur, executive director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University, gives final directions to volunteers, including Carmen Bernal, a recruiter for Progreso Latino, before opening doors to the public for a Spanish-language focused information session on driver’s privilege cards at the Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex in Providence on Thursday, April 14. (Photo by Kevin G. Andrade/Rhode Island Current)

PROVIDENCE – Advocates and state officials gathered at the Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex Thursday in an effort to inform undocumented Rhode Island residents on what they will need to obtain a driver’s privilege card once they become available on July 1.

“We’re interested in making sure the community is informed, is educated, and is able to avoid falling victim to scams,” Heiny Maldonado, executive director of Fuerza Laboral, a Central Falls-based labor and immigrant rights organization, said in Spanish. 

Organizers of the event included: The Immigrant Coalition of Rhode Island, Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance (AMOR), the Olneyville Neighborhood Association, and Fuerza Laboral.

The card, though identical to a non-REAL ID compliant driver’s license, would function the same as a traditional license but is not usable for federal or state identification or for voting. They can be used to drive in any part of the mainland United States. 

Legislation recently passed the Rhode Island House of Representatives to reduce the price of the cards from $50 to $25.

Documents necessary for the card include a foreign passport, consular identification document, employment authorization document, and more. A full list is available in multiple languages on the Department of Motor Vehicles website. Two forms of confirmation of residency, as well as confirmation from the Division of Taxation that 2022 tax payments were made are also required.

L to R: Hector Perez-Aponte, coordinator for the Immigrant Coalition of Rhode Island, Jonathan Dejesus, policy analyst at Progreso Latino, and Divya Air, policy analyst at the Economic Progress Institute, look on during an information session targeted at undocumented people looking to obtain driver privilege cards once they become available on July 1 at the Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex in Providence on Thursday, April 13. (Photo by Kevin G. Andrade/Rhode Island Current)

The main event was a community forum where Division of Motor Vehicles Administrator Walter Craddock, Tax Administrator for the Rhode Island Division of Taxation Neena Savage, and Immigrant Coalition Staff Attorney Ann Elise McCaffrey.

‘I will be in line that very day’: Undocumented await July 1 start for driver privilege cards

The officials advised the more than 60 community members who turned out for the forum that they would need to insure they paid their 2022 taxes by April 18 to ensure they have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number issued by the Internal Revenue Service. The number is made available to those who cannot apply for a Social Security number.

“Please do not bring your tax returns to the DMV,” Savage told the audience. She added that once they paid their taxes, people should go in person to the Department of Administration to get a confirmation of their tax payments to present to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The Internal Revenue Service recorded 6,722 state income tax returns filed in Rhode Island in 2022 using an ITIN in the primary, secondary, or dependent position. The agency added that the number does not confirm a person’s immigration status. 

Craddock told those gathered that making a reservation before entering would be of the utmost importance to help the process go smoothly.

“This is going to be a process,” he said through a Spanish-language interpreter. “Not everybody is going to get in there on the first day or in the first months.”

Department of Revenue spokesman Paul Grimmaldi attended the forum. He said in an interview that the Division of Motor Vehicles is still looking into how to allocate labor to attend to those they anticipate will make the applications. He said that it may require up to three months for kinks to be worked out of the system.

This is going to be a process. Not everybody is going to get in there on the first day or in the first months.

– Division of Motor Vehicles Administrator Walter Craddock

Grimmaldi added that it is typical for clerks to be able to process five new license applications in one hour, a rate he predicted would be comparable to the processing of driver privilege card applications.

Applicants would still be required to drive on a learners permit and pass written examinations as well as a driver’s test. 

There are an estimated 27,000 undocumented immigrants living in Rhode Island, according to the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University.

Guatemala passport delays resolved

To obtain passports, many foreign nationals in the U.S. will have to go to the consular offices of their region. While for many that may be hundreds of miles away, for Guatemalans in Rhode Island, that is right in Providence. 

However, COVID-19 pandemic supply shortages depleted booklets on which to print passports, leading to a monthslong crisis that left many Guatemalans waiting up to 10 months for passports.

The Consul General of Guatemala in Providence said in Spanish in an interview at Sanchez that the issue was resolved in November and that now, people can receive passports the same day they apply.

“We are supporting our people,” Edwin Marroquin, the consul, said. “Passports are the primary document people will be using to obtain driver privilege cards.”

In recent months, Marroquin said the consulate’s staff of 16 — which serves Guatemalans in all six New England states —  processed about 20,000 requests for passports since he rose to the post about 10 months ago. The demand is normal, but Marroquin expects it to ramp up once both Rhode Island and Massachusetts make driver privilege cards available in July.

“I really hope that people do request them,” he said, adding that it will make life easier for many undocumented.


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Kevin G. Andrade
Kevin G. Andrade

Kevin G. Andrade previously covered education, housing and human services for Rhode Island Current.